Arábia Screen 9 articles

Arábia

2017

Arábia Poster
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    Film Comment: Ela Bittencourt
    March 03, 2017 | March/April 2017 Issue (p. 23)

    The filmmakers' talents for social portraiture is evident: where Kleber Mendonça Filho takes the pulse of urban centers, Uchoa and Dumans look most closely at Brazil's small, often prosperous towns, where workers nevertheless struggle to make ends meet (confirming the popular Brazilian adage that Brazil is a rich country with poor people). From the twilight of labor unions, to growing unemployment and rights infringements, Arabia shows the tenuous dream of prosperous, populist Brazil gone bust.

  • Truly a grower, not a shower: the somewhat tedious opening reel of Arábia is entirely misleading. One may well wonder why the directors are focusing on a young man, Andre, who by all appearances is a complete cipher. (Even the opening take of Andre riding his bike up and down a hilly road is uninspired, a good example of the fact that all "slow cinema" is not created equal.) After Andre engages in some relatively banal business with his aunt, we discover his actual function.

  • There’s a conversation between our wayward hero and an older man at a loading dock about the various difficulties or ease in carrying different things that turns into a back-and-forth list— concrete (heavier than it seems), coffee (smells great)—that is just perfect . . . Other moments are less poignant, with a limpidity that goes beyond the surprisingly casual and seems superfluous; a necessary casualty to the style, perhaps.

  • A quiet epic which is both ideal for the current turbulent epoch and timeless, grittily specific in its details but universal in its themes, Joao Dumans and Affonso Uchoa's Brazilian wonder Araby (Arabia) sets a high bar for world cinema of 2017. An intriguingly structured, multilayered road movie in which an ordinary working-class dude looks back over a nation-wandering decade of his life... [it's] a cumulatively engrossing and ultimately very moving work of clear-eyed political intent.

  • [The] message is assembled so gradually and in such casually piecemeal fashion that the film always seems at a considerable remove from standard social realism, a feeling only amplified by how Dumans and Uchoa slyly manipulate their otherwise unvarnished observations of life.

  • The film opens quietly but builds with tremendous emotional force... One of the beauties of “Arábia” is that while Cristiano is unquestionably the hero of his life, he is never sentimentalized. Such a transformation might satisfy certain storybook conventions, but Cristiano remains the author of his own story.

  • Like the Townes Van Zandt song that opens the film, Arábia becomes a deeply felt ballad of the drifting life, devoid of sentimentality but long on empathy. Most importantly, the story is told through Cristiano’s words, with voiceover from the notebook providing an utterly convincing record of a young worker discovering himself through writing. While many filmmakers claim to give voice to the marginal, few have done so with the artistic and political sensitivity displayed in Arábia.

  • Though Cristiano is archetypically situated in a long line of weary loners who’ve wandered cinema’s backroads and bywaters, his is less a voyage of becoming than an eternal return, which makes Araby a synthesis of seemingly contradictory terms: an epic of unsensational proportions.

  • The subjective, invisible, non-discursive standards of neoliberal narratives are swiftly replaced by an affirmation of the identity that neoliberalism has made its very point to erase. . . . In this journey from individualism to a collectivity, and from subjectivity to a personal sensitivity shaped by class, Araby takes charge of the dominant, normative structure of storytelling, and puts a mirror in front of it, cleverly seducing the viewer to enter a world that they wouldn’t otherwise.

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